Brutus, Bountiful Betrayal and the Nameless Naked
Preached by Pastor Jason Abbott
Americans love a good conspiracy theory movie; if you don’t believe me just google “conspiracy theory movies” and look at the voluminous list that arises: All the President’s Men (1976), The Boys from Brazil (1978), Robocop (1987), JFK (1991), The Pelican Brief (1993), The Fugitive (1993), Da Vinci Code (2006), and The Adjustment Bureau (2011) to name a few. This list could go on and on!
In the best of these movies, there is a gradual revelation of the conspiracy. The films usually begin with some typically unsavory character (e.g. an assassin) doing something typically unsavory (e.g. a murder)—just the usual suspects. However, then they normally reveal that some less typically unsavory characters (e.g. the NYPD) are also involved in some way (e.g. hiding important evidence). Next, the action rises yet again when somebody whom you simply wouldn’t expect (e.g. The Pope) is involved. Finally, when you’re certain the action has peaked, they blow your mind up by revealing that the main character’s spouse and children are actually evil robots controlled by the Vatican. And you’re like: No way!!!
Wait (you’re thinking), what does all this have to do with today’s passage? Well, in a similar fashion, Mark progressively reveals more and more of the conspiracy surrounding Jesus’ betrayal and crucifixion.
43 And immediately, while he was still speaking, Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the scribes and the elders. 44 Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man. Seize him and lead him away under guard.” 45 And when he came, he went up to him at once and said, “Rabbi!” And he kissed him. 46 And they laid hands on him and seized him. 47 But one of those who stood by drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear. 48 And Jesus said to them, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me? 49 Day after day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me. But let the Scriptures be fulfilled.” 50 And they all left him and fled.
51 And a young man followed him, with nothing but a linen cloth about his body. And they seized him, 52 but he left the linen cloth and ran away naked.
Now, following the outline of our title: (1) Brutus, (2) Bountiful Betrayal and (3) the Nameless Naked, let’s pursue this rising conspiracy story as it unfolds in this passage. We begin with:
1. A Brutus (vv. 43-46).
If you know your ancient history or, perhaps, if you were forced to read William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar in the tenth grade, then you know “Et tu Brute?” are supposedly the final words Julius Caesar uttered while being assassinated in a conspiracy by a number of Roman senators including his friend—Marcus Junius Brutus.
In English, it’s translated—“And you, Brutus?” or “And you too, Brutus?”—and has become a catchphrase signifying the stinging betrayal of a close friend. Supposedly, Caesar fought off his attackers until he noticed Brutus among them then, after uttering the phrase in crushed surprise, ceased to struggle against them. Brutus’ betrayal was too much for him to bear.
We shouldn’t underestimate the similar sting Jesus would have experienced, when some seventy years later, Judas betrays him with the most intimate mocking. As the betrayer, Judas’ actions and words make Jesus the butt of a most cruel joke. One scholar explains it this way:
…an act of love is performed for a mission of hate. Whatever else the significance of the betrayal kiss, that gesture, along with the honorific title “Rabbi” (=“my great one”), makes a burlesque of Jesus. The manner of betrayal becomes the first example of the mockery of Jesus, which will play a key role in the crucifixion narrative of chap. 15.1
Have you ever felt betrayed by someone whom you trusted and you loved? Know this—Jesus understands (better than you even know) exactly how it stings. Jesus knows what it’s like to love others intimately and sacrificially and perfectly yet have those whom he loves in these ways cruelly and mockingly betray him. No! We “do not have a [Savior] who is unable to empathize…” (Hebrews 4:15).
Yet, while Julius Caesar may have been surprised by the betrayal of Brutus, we must not suppose that Jesus was, in the least bit, surprised by Judas’ betrayal. In fact, Jesus predicted it just two weeks ago in our passage (Mark 14:18, 20-21). Jesus was not surprised.
But, does that make it easier? Does that make the betrayal less painful? Absolutely not! In fact, I believe, it makes it far worse. Why do I say that?
Caesar had a terrible but very brief moment in which he felt betrayal’s sting. Yet, with his knowledge of the future, Jesus would have lived and loved Judas, each and every day, in the midst of the approaching sting of his disciple’s betrayal. For three years—every meal Jesus ate, every lesson he taught, every joke he told, every hug he gave, every single interaction Jesus had with Judas would have been done under the foreshadow of Judas’ coming betrayal.
Consider how painful that would be!
And, in light of this, consider how beautiful the love of Jesus is!
This knowledge—and the pain it would have brought over those three years with Judas—did not mean Jesus merely played at loving Judas or loved Judas less! Rather, there was never anything false in Jesus—when he loved, he truly loved—even the one whom he knew would betray him!
How beautiful is the love of Jesus!
What would it look like for our congregation to exhibit such Christian love? What would it mean to truly love those who would betray us if given the chance? There would certainly be no secular wisdom in pursuing such a Christ-like love, but there would certainly be a profoundly radical witness to the unbelieving world around us if we did!
For just a moment, think about all those whom you view as your enemies. Then, as you think about them and the reasons you have to despise and hate them, remember what Paul says about the love which God has demonstrated toward you. He writes:
God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).
God doesn’t love us as if it’s okay for us to go on sinning against him. However, neither does God hold back his love until we change our sinful ways. These are each a perversion of the gospel.
Rather, the good news is that God has loved us in the midst of our sinfulness and, through his love, in the person and work of Jesus Christ, crucifies our sins once and for all!
This is the gospel, and this is the kind of love we are called to engender! Love which is extended to those who have and would betray Christ Jesus (and us) for the end purpose of gospel witness and redemption!
It’s my prayer that our church would regularly display this kind of love!
2. Bountiful Betrayal (vv. 47-50).
It’s not difficult to see Judas here as a betrayer of Jesus. (Certainly, he was.) However, Mark reveals that the conspiracy is disturbingly much bigger than this. Look again at the passage with me:
But one of those who stood by drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear. And Jesus said to them, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me? Day after day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me. But let the Scriptures be fulfilled.” And they all left him and fled (vv. 47-50).
At least, two more groups are shown to be part of the betrayal of Jesus here: one that we would expect and one that we would not.
First, we see that the Jewish religious authorities are in on the conspiracy. After all, this armed posse—who’ve come to capture Jesus—were obviously sent by the high priest.
This group’s participation in the betrayal of Jesus doesn’t surprise us at all. They’ve been against Jesus from the very beginning of his ministry.
Remember, however, that this is a very shady plan they’ve contrived here. It’s not on the up and up—it’s done at night; it’s done in secret; it’s underhanded. In this way, with Jesus, they betray Israel and God, whom they were to serve!
Their betrayal is bountiful!
Second, we see that the rest of the eleven disciples get in on the betrayal. This should be much more surprising to us.
For starters, we see this impulsive act of violence taking place in verse 47. We learn from the gospel of John that the perpetrator was none other than Peter. This is the beginning of the disciples’ betrayal since it, in no way shape or form, fits with what Jesus has taught the eleven, up to this point, concerning the purpose of his mission.
This isn’t turning the other cheek. This isn’t an action heralding good news. This is a disobedience—a betrayal!—of the Christ.
Ironically, this is Peter self-righteously attempting to dispense God’s wrath when Jesus has come—for the very purpose, with the very goal—of satisfying it, so that Peter and you and me and all, who would place their faith in Jesus Christ, might not have to suffer God’s wrath (cf. John 18:11).
Friends, if we have been forgiven through faith in Jesus Christ’s cross work, we must be a people who are far more characterized by mercy than by wrath! Otherwise, we too betray Jesus.
Then, there is this short little verse which completes the disciples’ betrayal:
And they all left him and fled (v. 50).
Remember that each of the disciples had pledged, in harmony with Peter, never to disown Jesus even if such allegiance meant that they would have to die. Yet, here a simple arrest sends them all running.
Betrayal, betrayal, bountiful betrayal—Judas then the religious authority then the rest of the disciples—now, Jesus is betrayed; now, Jesus is alone!
Yet, Mark wants to take us a step further in examining this conspiracy story. And, consequently, we have this strange little, enigmatic ending to our passage.
So let’s finally turn our attention to:
3. The Nameless Naked (vv. 51-52).
Let me read once more these two mysterious verses. Mark records:
And a young man followed him, with nothing but a linen cloth about his body. And they seized him, but he left the linen cloth and ran away naked (vv. 51-52).
You wouldn’t believe the speculation these final two verses have stirred up. Who might this anonymous young streaker be? Why is he wearing only a cloth? What’s the point of such a detail?
Well, I’d suggest that a final determination of identity might actually defeat the purpose Mark intends for this character to play in his story. What do I mean?
I mean that these details beg the question of this final deserter’s identity. And (I think) Mark does want us to ponder the question not so that we might find the historical answer, but, rather that, we might begin a far more personal inquiry. You see, the youth’s “lack of identity…invites” us to seriously contemplate our “own readiness to abandon Jesus.”2
Consequently, in the end, the question of identity is ultimately left for us. We are each encouraged to ask ourselves:
- Have I abandoned Jesus? Am I part of the conspiracy against him?
- How might I have betrayed him?
To me, it’s interesting that Mark makes certain to include that the young man fled the scene naked because often, in Scripture, nudity is linked with our sin. Thus, Adam and Eve first disobeyed God, took and ate from the forbidden tree, and “realized they were naked….” (Genesis 3:7).
Everything, at the end of this passage in Mark, is exposed and made plain. Isn’t it? Just like Adam and Eve, all are running away from God and hiding because of sin.
If you recognize this about yourself, if you identify with these betrayers, please don’t do so any longer. Remember, Jesus does not run in this passage. Instead, he marches to the cross, and he did so for you.